‘A strong spirit transcends rules.’
June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and actor.
Few artists have created a panel of work as rich and diverse as Prince. Born in Minneapolis, he developed an interest in music as a young child and signed his first recording contract with Warner Bros at 18. Prince was a musical innovator, renowned for his eclectic work, flamboyant stage presence, extravagant dress and makeup, and wide vocal range. During the ’80s, he arose as one of the most particular talents of the rock & roll era, capable of faultlessly bringing together pop, funk, folk, and rock. He released a series of groundbreaking albums, and he also toured regularly, produced albums, and wrote songs for many other artists, as well as recorded hundreds of songs that still lie unreleased in his vaults. With each album he released, he showed noteworthy stylistic progress and melodic variety, constantly experimenting with different sounds, textures, and genres. He has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. Sometimes, his music was uneven, because of his diversity, but his experiments recurrently prospered; no other contemporary artist blended so many miscellaneous styles into a solid whole. His music integrates a wide variety of styles, including funk, rock, new wave, soul, psychedelia, and pop. ‘I have a writing addiction,’ he used to say.
Awards and nominations
Prince won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award for the film Purple Rain. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame in 2004, the first year of his eligibility. He was on the list of Rolling Stone’s ‘most influential artists of the rock & roll era.’
Prince’s first two albums were solid, if unexceptional, late-’70s funk-pop. With 1980’s Dirty Mind, he recorded his first chef-d’oeuvre; it was hard funk, appealing Beatlesque melodies, sweet soul ballads, and rocking guitar pop, all at once. The continuation, Controversy, was more of the same, but 1999 was dazzling. The album was a huge hit, selling over three million copies, but it was nothing compared to 1984’s Purple Rain.
Purple Rain made Prince a celebrity; it ultimately sold over ten million copies in the U.S. and spent 24 weeks at number one. Moderately recorded with his touring band, the Revolution, the record included the most pop-oriented music he has ever made. Instead of continuing in this accessible direction, he turned off into the bizarre psycho-psychedelia of Around the World in a Day, which nevertheless sold over two million copies. In 1986, he released the even stranger Parade, which was in its own way as go-getting and complex as any art rock of the ’60s; however, no art rock was ever grounded with a hit as brilliant as the spare funk of “Kiss.”
‘Everyone has a rock bottom.’ -Prince
Still, his talent never knew one… By 1987, Prince’s ambitions were developing, resulting in the extensive masterpiece Sign ‘O’ The Times. Prince was set to release the hard funk of The Black Album by the end of the year, yet he pulled out it just before its release, deciding it was too dark and immoral. Instead, he released the confused Lovesexy in 1988, which was a commercial disaster. With the soundtrack to 1989’s Batman he returned to the top of the charts, even if the album was essentially a recap of everything he had done before. The following year he released Graffiti Bridge (the sequel to Purple Rain), which turned out to be a considerable commercial disappointment.
In 1991, Prince formed the New Power Generation, the best and most resourceful and gifted band he has ever assembled. With their first album, Diamonds and Pearls, Prince reaffirmed his mastery of contemporary R&B; it was his biggest hit since 1985. The following year, he released his 12th album, which was titled with a cryptic symbol; in 1993, Prince legally changed his name to the symbol. In 1994, he independently released the single “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” likely to illustrate what he would be capable of on his own; the song became his biggest hit in years. Later that summer, Warner released the somewhat halfhearted Come under the name of Prince; the record was a moderate success, going gold.
In November 1994, as part of a contractual obligation, Prince agreed to the official release of The Black Album.
In the summer of 1996, Prince released Chaos & Disorder, which freed him to become an independent artist. He released that same year with the three-disc Emancipation.
In 1998, Prince assembled a collection of outtakes and unreleased material called Crystal Ball. With Crystal Ball, Prince discovered that it’s much more difficult to get records to an audience than it seems; some fans who pre-ordered their copies through Prince’s website (from which a bonus fifth disc was included) didn’t receive them until months after the set began appearing in stores. Prince then released a new one-man album, New Power Soul.
In 1999, Prince issued the remix collection 1999 (The New Master). Later on, Prince returned on Arista with the all-star Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic.
As years go by…
‘Time is a mind construct. It’s not real.’ -Prince
In the fall of 2001 he released the controversial Rainbow Children, a jazz-infused circus of sound trumpeting his conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses that left many longtime fans out in the cold. He further isolated himself with 2003’s N.E.W.S., a four-song set of instrumental jams that sounded a lot more fun to play than to listen to. Prince rebounded in 2003 with the chart-topping Musicology, a return to form that found the artist back in the Top Ten, even garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 2005.
In early 2006 he was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, performing two songs with a new protégée, R&B singer Tamar.
Planet Earth followed in 2007, featuring contributions from Wendy and Lisa.
LotusFlow3r, a three-disc set, was released in 2009, featuring a trio of distinct albums: LotusFlow3r itself (a guitar showcase), MPLSound (a throwback to his ’80s funk output), and Elixer (a smooth contemporary R&B album featuring the breathy vocals of Bria Valente). Despite only being available online and through one big-box retailer, the set debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 chart. A year later, another throwback-flavored effort, 20Ten, became his second U.K. newspaper giveaway. No official online edition of the album was made available.
In 2013, Prince released several singles, starting with “Screwdriver” and continuing with “Breakfast Can Wait” in the summer of that year. Early in 2014, he made a cameo appearance on the Zooey Deschanel sitcom The New Girl, appearing in the episode that aired following the Super Bowl.
Everything comes to an end…
‘There’s a dark side to everything.’ -Prince
First came two new albums: Art Official Age and PlectrumElectrum, the latter credited to 3rdEyeGirl, the all-female power trio that was his new-millennial backing band. Both records came out on the same day in September 2014. Almost a year to the day, he released HITnRUN, with contributions from Lianne La Havas, Judith Hill, and Rita Ora. A sequel, HITnRUM: Phase Two, was released online in December 2015, with a physical release following in January 2016. In early 2016, Prince set out on a rare solo tour, a run of shows he called “Piano and a Microphone.” The tour was cut short in April due to sickness, however, and Prince flew home to Minneapolis. On April 21, 2016, Prince died at the age of 57. His early death and unbelievable achievement provoked an outburst of emotion from fans, friends, influences, and professional connections. On the following week’s Billboard charts, he occupied four of the top ten album positions and four of the top singles positions.
‘Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.’ -Prince